As Hispanic Heritage Month continues and we start gearing up for LGBTQ History Month, one film comes to mind that straddles both worlds and bridges the complex gap many LatinX LGBTQ community members face. Through powerful dialogue, “El Canto del Colibrí” explores the relationships between Latino immigrant fathers and their LGBTQ family members. Much like the song of the hummingbird from which the film derives its name, the voices of Latino fathers are rarely heard addressing LGBTQ issues, including those of machismo, culture and coming out.
Marco Castro-Bojorquez, director and producer of “El Canto,” is a filmmaker, educator, youth advocate and community organizer who strongly believes that this world belongs to everyone and not only one sector of the society. Born and raised on the Mexican Pacific coast, Marco left his country for political reasons and has been living in California for the past 20 years.
“I started working with youth in the year 2000. Before I started my work with HIV/AIDS, I was working at a social enterprise technology and arts school in San Francisco directing programs. And it was then that I started making films with my students and with the community,” Marco recalls. “I was just a facilitator for them. That’s how I started. So, I basically merged filmmaking with my vocation of service, so to speak. That’s why my films are the way they are. The reason that I make films is to fight injustice.”
Marco’s first documentary “Tres Gotas de Agua,” born out of his work with Somos Familia, premiered at Frameline 35 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival and later became the unofficial prequel for “El Canto del Colibrí.” “The inspiration for “El Canto” was basically a request from the audiences that watched my first film— an indie short about Latinos and their moms. They were asking for the dads. ‘Where are the fathers?’ So, my team, José Alfaro and Katie Cruz, were like, ‘Marco, we need to make a film about fathers.’
“I started making a film thinking that it was going to be a short film. But I have been very lucky to have been given these incredible testimonies. I could not believe it. The short film became feature length and then it became something relevant for our community. I’m very grateful. I don’t take it for granted for one second.”
Finding families to speak on such personal topics in front of a camera proved to be no small feat for Marco. He recalls traveling while working with Lambda Legal: “I would tell every single person that I would run into that I was making a film and that I was looking for specific subjects. And it was very difficult to find people. It’s difficult for people to speak on camera about something that they have never spoken period. Everybody that I interviewed, they had never talked about the topic or answered the questions that I asked.”
“[The families featured in the film] were mostly people that I was working with doing activism,” Marco continued. “At Lambda Legal, I had a pilot program that was basically a family acceptance program. I would promote family acceptance—[working with] parents of queer children to not to kick them out, to accept them—and that’s how I found them. I don’t know how or why, but everyone that I talked to opened up in a way that I think is remarkable.”
The most common topic of discussion in the film is the unshakable association of Latino culture and machismo—an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength and entitlement to dominate are concomitants of masculinity.
“As a youth organizer, as an educator and as a young person with my father and my family, I have experienced machismo. It’s complicated. Machismo exists in the Latin culture. But it’s not exclusive,” Marco says with a hint of frustration in his voice. “It’s a stereotype that has been placed into our community and when you repeat so many times to someone that that is what they are—although all of them are not—you tend to acquire those things, I feel.
“To me, [machismo] is a barrier to being yourself. It’s a barrier to being in touch with your feelings, to be able to speak from your heart. And sometimes you see manifestations of machismo that are so pathetic that they are comical. It is still a barrier, though. And more and more Latino men are actually speaking against it. And in my film, a few times the men explicitly reject it, which is a powerful statement to be seen on film.”
Seeing these rejections of machismo on screen certainly feels like a step in the right direction. But how does one actually combat machismo, or any of the many other variations of culturally-inherited homophobia for that matter?
“I think that the most important thing is for the young generation not to claim something that they have been told that they are, when they are not, which I think is happening,” Marco claims. “In the case of my father and I, [it was only in the] month before he died that we were able to have conversations about machismo.
“I remember so well a time when I was in the sixth grade—I was the teacher’s assistant of the kindergarten. There was going to be a parade and my cousin, who was the same age as me, was going to be on a horse representing one of the heroes of the revolution. And I was in the back of a truck taking care of my students, dressed up as a clown guerrillero—a soldier clown. I hate clowns, by the way! But I did that because I wanted to take care of the students.
“My father made this comment that I never forgot. He basically said that I should learn from my cousin who was in this highly regarded position of power. It hurt me … so deeply. Because he never really understood what I was doing. I was working. I was doing something for somebody else and not for me. The story of my life. [That moment] represents machismo, and so, I think that rejecting that framework and speaking about it with the folks that you live with or your people is important. It manifests itself in so many ways in our life and I’ve always rejected it—in a very subconscious way—because it is a barrier for people to be close to each other or for men to feel free.”
While “El Canto del Colibrí” was originally intended for Latino audiences, its message has proven to be universal. Marco recalls a presentation of the film in San Francisco: “I remember there was this kid from Vietnam who came and he held my hand and told me that he wishes that I could make a film in Vietnamese for him to reach his parents. The film in so many ways has been so magical. Because it’s touched my life in many ways, but also other people’s lives in many ways.”
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